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If you tell someone that you’re going to Guadeloupe, don’t be surprised if you get a puzzled look and the question, “Isn’t that in Mexico?” Not this Guadeloupe. Rather, this French overseas territory comprises a group of nine islands in the Caribbean with Antigua and Barbuda to its north and Dominica to the south. Much of the action though, is on the “twin” islands, Grand-Terre and its capital city Basse-Terre, The largest city is Pointe-a-Pitre, which has around 133,000 of the more than 405,000 people in the country.

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View of the harbor on Terre-de-Haute | Photo courtesy of Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board

Guadeloupe is somewhat in the shadows of fellow French isle Martinique, but go there, and you’ll discover one of the Caribbean’s hidden gems. It’s a different vibe—a chill vibe. You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s a very good thing. There aren’t a load tourists tripping over each other. Instead, there is local culture. You’ve likely seen how Carib folks get down when it comes to dancing—the rhythm and gyrations are infectious. In Guadeloupe, go ahead and try it. Take a Gwo-ka dance class in Pointe-a-Pitre with the Akademiduka Association and get lost in the drumming. It doesn’t matter if you can’t make all the moves; it’s about the fun and experiencing the traditional art form. Don’t worry, the dancers will just smile and forgive you. After all, you’re not a native.

Afterward, treat yourself to creative French creole pastries, sorbet and ice cream at Desirs du Palais. Everything is locally sourced and made in house. On a Sunday afternoon, be prepared to wait in the line. Fabienne Youyoutte’s concoctions are so deliciously addictive she recently opened a second shop in Sainte-Anne.

For sure, a must-see is Memorial ACTe, the slavery museum in Pointe-a-Pitre.  It is the largest museum on the planet dedicated to the memory and history of the slave trade and slavery from the early 17th century to today. The 77,000 square-foot complex, which opened in 2015, is located on the site of the former Darboussier sugar factory and is an architectural wonder. When you see the replica of a slave ship stuffed with hundreds of people side by side with barely room to breathe, or lift a chain that once was on someone’s neck and it’s so heavy your hand pulls downward, the tears may flow. You could spend days in the museum. A part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project (a global initiative to promote healing and harmony of people through the shared legacy of slavery), the museum is comprehensive, interactive and educational. There is a temporary exhibition space devoted to all facets of contemporary artistic creations, a genealogy research center, media library and documentary resource center, performance arts theater, open-air space terrace space for events and two restaurants. Other highlights in Pointe-a-Pitre include the St. Pierre and St. Paul Cathedral and St. Antoine Market, the bustling spice market where you can also get creole dolls, flowers and other local goods.

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Photo courtesy of Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board

Make your way to Basse-Terre where Grand Anse Beach awaits. With its golden sand and coconut palms, the longest beach in Guadeloupe is also touted as one of the best. Keep the serenity flowing at the Jardin Botanique de Deshaies. The gardens are an array of native fauna. While parrots entertain, you’ll have the pleasure of eyeing red flamingos who flourished in Guadeloupe half a century ago, and were recently reintroduced on the island by the folks at the botanical garden.

A good place for an authentic Creole lunch near the beach is Le Madras. Sit back and watch the pelicans dive and the boaters at play.

Horseback riders on Plage de Clugny | Photo courtesy of Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board

Guadeloupe is big on eco-tourism. Tendacayou Eco Lodge is in the midst of untouched and protected wilderness of the rainforest Morne Bois d’Inde, and offers panoramic views out over the Caribbean. Check out the Spa with its natural pool and waterfall, and do stick your feet in the pond with fish who will give you a ticklish pedicure for free. It’s a bit freaky, but you’ll laugh and have a great selfie. When you’ve pampered yourself with a massage or other luxury, top off your day with a meal at Red Fish Restaurant. You never know what to expect (a good guess is seafood!); much depends on what arrives from the sea that day and the season.

Though Guadeloupe is definitely laid back with idyllic island scenery straight off a movie set, it is far from boring. Scuba dive, snorkel, cruise, surf, flyboard, helmet dive, take the kids to the aquarium, go whale watching. There are a truckload of attractions.

Nothing makes for a perfect vacation like a great place to stay. La Creole Beach Hotel & Spa in Le Grosier sits in the heart of a tropical garden, among palms, hibiscuses and bougainvillea, by the beach. There is music nightly, and once a month there is a special jazz session where some of the best talent on the island jams, creating the most intoxicating jazz on the planet. Relax with music and fine tropical drink and you’ll see why this Caribbean gem is worth discovering.

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Tagged: Caribbean

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl Nance-Nash

Sheryl is a writer and editor, specializing in travel, personal finance, business and career topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, Money, DailyFinance.com, Forbes.com, ABCNews.com, Upscale Magazine, Essence, Black Enterprise and others.
Sheryl Nance-Nash

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